(Steeplekeeper's Report 1992 AGM)


  The Seventh Is Still Odd Struck. I have begun every report in this way for the past five years, and with a bit of luck and a following wind, this ought to be the last in a long line. Without the luck we might be shouting "hold it off, it's very quick at hand" for the next generation of Ranmoor ringing.

  This report is attempting to; summarise the work we have completed this- year; sketch out the plan for the next year; and provide something of a reference document for my successors, as my energy for this game may well be exhausted by April 1993. Buried in the paragraphs below are various ways of spending our money. We should prioritise them thus, as funds become available:
  • Work on Bells
  • Two ropes per year 
  • Belfry inspection 
  • Proper washers etc 
  • Belfry Lighting 
  • Ceiling Rebuild
  • Proper Spanners
  • More walkways
  • Lightweight ladder
  • Cupboard banister 
  • Paint frame


  In total we have used 257 hours of our spare time on these jobs, approximately thus:

Bellfoundry visit & letters  6  
Meetings and Planning  18  
Initial Cleaning Belfry  3  
Middle Room Trap Door  2  
The Bags (including cleaning)  12  
Ringing Room Trap Door  6  
Tenor Bolts  6  
Research on Ninth 4  
Insurance Visit and Negotiation 4  
Bell Restoration Fund 2  
Timber 4  

Photographs and Posters 6  
Moving Exhibits 4  
Cleaning church 2  
Parish Magazine articles 3  

Pulley Blocks 6  
Clappers 6  
Wheels 4  
Supporting Bells 3  
Unbolting 10  
Headstocks to Ringing Chamber 24  
Headstocks to Porch 10  
Delivery to Loughborough 6  
Cleaning (including carpet) 4  

Collection from Loughborough  10  
Preparation 2  
Headstocks to Ringing Chamber 8  
Headstocks to Belfry and attachment 32  
Completion and initial test Adjustments 33  
Adjustments 8  
Checking Tightness 2  
Clearing up still to do 7  


  I have been on site for all the work, and in consultation with our 'volunteers', decided what to do and when to do it. We have all done the next job necessary rather than specialising on any aspect, or taking charge of any particular bell. So I deny supervising anyone, but I have tried to keep track of what was going on and advise on whether it fitted into the grand scheme of things. Such is the way of a 'light touch' management style.
When needing some people for work, I have issued a general invitation to a working session, and when not mown down in the rush, a more specific invitation to the next likely-looking victim that I happened to meet. Everyone has responded magnificently, and we have never been short of people. Indeed, the occasional hiccough in the smooth flow of work has sometimes left us with an embarrassment of riches, but nobody has yet complained that these extended rests has wasted too much of their free time.

  On most occasions, I have attempted to limit working sessions to about three hours, so that we are not too tired at the end of it. And mostly we have finished some defined job during the session. Other than that I have avoided too much rigorous planning.

  One thing that would have benefited from a better contingency plan was the return of the headstocks from Loughborough. I had hoped something would turn up, but it didn't and they were ready a fortnight before we collected them. While outing and dinner would have prevented much progress, it would have been better to impress the foundry with our efficiency, particularly as we need their co-operation in speeding through the bells that will leave us (almost) unringable.

  However, we are all amateurs at this game, and can count ourselves fortunate that the problems have been overcome fairly straightforwardly.


  There are those who have managed to appear at the top of the ladder without a hard hat, but in the main we have observed that basic safety precaution well enough..
Our closest shave with a potentially serious incident had the ninth clapper staple swinging round inside the bell intent on giving Alan Heath a severe blow on- the head: it succeeded in sending the hard hat to the floor of the ringing chamber via the ladder trap doors but Alan's head survived (almost) unscathed.

  Other than that we have suffered a number of uncomfortable scrapes and bruises, but no permanent injuries.
We are all aware of the hazards, and in particular, the problems of extracting ourselves from the innermost reaches of the frame in the case of an accident. We have worked with less than three people on only a few occasions, and then only on the less hazardous tasks.

  There are a number of particular dangers of which we will need continuing awareness:
  • moving the first part of the middle room floor will certainly tip dust and rubbish on unsuspecting ringers below, and is quite capable of slipping and smashing the whole door to pieces on the ringing room floor.
  • moving the second part of the middle room floor, as there is nowhere convenient to gain proper control of the beast and still be in a safe place.
  • committing personal centre of gravity directly above a long drop and relying on hand and foot holds.
  • moving the planks above the bells, and then assuming that the new position is stable and capable of being walked on, when it probably is not.
  • storing or putting down tools anywhere above floor level, from where they; jump on to someone's head; cause anguish at being lost; or, if all else fails, get knocked off when we next ring and do some unmentionable injury to an innocent bell.
  • hammers, screwdrivers, saws, and spanners all try to avoid doing their appointed task and slip off in some unplanned direction.
  • the chain hoist is heavy enough when lifted, and gets heavier the higher it is lifted (more chain to lift); the chain has to be lowered with the end first rather than (as with a rope) any old middle bit and let the rest drop.
  • slings are as strong as their weakest point and in the absence of inspection before each use, fray quietly to themselves without shouting about it.


  This has caused me the greatest worry and threatened the feasibility or at least the timetable of the whole project. The impediments to a clear view of the inside of the spire from the porch floor are; the ringing chamber floor; the ringing chamber ceiling; the middle room floor; the belfry floor; the bell frame itself; and then, irrelevantly, the high platform at the base of the spire.

  These all need separate consideration, and each has its own horror story. I first thought that we could struggle by with the standard access (ladder trap doors and spiral staircase), at least for the fittings of the ninth on its own. The topology might work, but the weight of the headstocks would certainly prevent a safe operation and there would be some danger of the whole thing being irretrievably stuck, leaving some lucky people on the wrong side of a blocked entrance.

  We did lower the headstocks down the spiral staircase, and there was just enough room, although the whole operation has to be classified as a lark, and a potential embarrassment had we got stuck. The staircase post also has an extra groove that it could do without. So in the end the complete access route was essential: here are its components from the top.


  This is two doors supported on a removable beam at their centre. From above, there are some rings let into the floor on which to pull, and the whole of each door can be stored on the belfry floor under the seventh and fourth bells. It seems possible to interchange the doors without ill effect.

  This bit was easy: it was necessary to remove a fair amount of dirt dust and pigeon droppings (and the odd pigeon), before attempting to lift the doors. They have to be slid aside as there would be no space under the frame for hinges.


  The topology is now the same as the belfry floor: there are two doors supported on a removable beam at their centre. There is a ring set into each door on which to pull, and the whole door has to be slid into the corners of the middle room' for storage. I have not tried interchanging the doors.

  The problem is to squash into the three foot high middle room to do the lifting, particularly if necessary to remove both doors. In this case it is safest to squeeze and wriggle to leave through the ladder trap door rather than climb into the belfry.

  Excavating the entrance was a major archaeological feat, and like the builders of the pyramids, our predecessors tried to make the discovery of the room's secrets as tortuous as possible. There were two main problems: the bars and the bags.

  The Ranmoor Bar: unlike its more endearing alcoholic cousin, or even its enigmatic legal namesake, it seems to have no real purpose in life but as an Obstacle to Progress. In fact there is a whole lattice of them in the middle room about twelve inches above the floor, apparently trying to hold in the walls of the tower: they even have screw adjustments to increase or decrease their tension. But tension is one thing of which they are totally bereft: perhaps I am supposed to be tightening the beasties every time I pass that way: perhaps the church had an Ancient Retainer who departed this world without letting anyone into the secret of the weekly half turn to keep the walls pointing in a consistent direction. Who knows? My bet is that they were designed by the same chap who built the brick walls in front of the opening windows and then left out single bricks for the operating cords to pass through (pity about the fresh air).

  These bars were certainly inserted after the middle room trap door was last opened and they prevented the hinges operating at all. So out they went, leaving us with this nasty sliding operation whenever we need the hole. I do wonder whether it was accident or design that the lattice-work left clear the whole hole. I am mildly amused by the prospect of removing a bar to let the tenor past only to find the tower walls bow outward and collapse.

  The Bags seem to have been there for ever. They were basically straw inside brown paper, nailed to the middle room floor in about three layers to a depth of three inches or so. While some of them must have been removed for the 1934 augmentation, they were certainly replaced before the new rope tracks were built, as these have been constructed through the middle of all three layers of otherwise complete bags. My guess is therefore original 1880s vintage as some sort of sound insulation for the ringers.

  The bags certainly collect dust, and some sort of face mask is a good idea when dealing with them. There is still about one third of the original volume of bags to be removed, and if only for their qualities as a fire hazard, they clearly have to go. I am unable to detect any difference in the noise level of the bells as a result of their removal.


  This needs to be rebuilt, preferably to a different design from the original. We need a thin baton around the hole on which the new ceiling can rest. This would reduce the size of the hole slightly, and if the tenor bell itself has to come down, then the baton might have to be removed first.

  The ceiling piece ought to have a handle or two on each part so that it can be lifted from above. Hopefully it would give some protection to people below from, the falling of the middle room floor, although it does create a new hazard itself. It would certainly stop light leaking through the cracks in the middle room floor, which causes FUDdiness (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) in those standing there.

  The new ceiling will also need painting.

  Removal was a problem. It was not absolutely clear from below that the tongue and groove boarding did stop at the edge of the hole and did not extend across the whole ceiling. The break was in fact underneath the beading. I was finally convinced that this must be the case because the ceiling had been amended to cope with the augmentation from eight to ten, so the hole must have been there to allow the bells up. (Unlike Houston where the bells were assembled in a frame on the ground, lifted with a crane, dropped into place, then the church roof was built over the top).

  The ceiling, in the end, yielded to the persuasion of a crowbar from above, and the boards thus removed await their rebuilding into a saner device.
Access from below was previously impossible without scaffolding. The new design will allow a lip on which a ladder can rest, and we could straightforwardly provide a hook on to which we could tie the ladder for additional safety, as in "Never Go Up a Ladder Without Tying The Top First".


  This also forms the Porch ceiling. Access is now fairly easy; roll back the carpet; roll up the paper; remove the two cut pieces of linoleum, and turn back the remaining pieces around the edge; remove the large sheet of plywood and the smaller cut pieces, remembering where they need to be replaced; remove the central floorboard of the trap door to reveal an internal joist; thread the rope already through the other hole in the joist to form a secure sling; give a vertical lift and hey presto there are the heads of the congregation leaving below.

I  t does have to be a vertical lift and I suspect hinging on one side will not do. The whole thing is also very heavy, probably beyond the lifting capacity of two people, and as with all rectangular hole covers, liable in the absence of care to plummet to the depths below.

  Arriving here was a BFI (Brute Force and Ignorance) job, and it was an achievement to thwart those who had done their best to ensure that the top of the trap door never saw the light of day again. While the plywood certainly gave a flat floor on which to lay the linoleum, it was nailed with total disregard to access to the trap door. I doubt whether it really needed rows and columns of two inch nails two foot apart as well as a double dose on each edge. It now sits quite comfortably without any nails at all.


  This is not without its problems: the ladder is supposed to fit in the grooves on the cupboard and inside its wedge on the floor, and it is quite easy to fail to do both properly: while the top of the cupboard seems stable enough, the banister looks precarious, and on occasion has been abused by being stood on; under the cold light of analysis this seems a daft thing to do, and the whole lot could do with another support.

  The trap doors have been roped back when in continuous use, but could do with a firmer fixing to avoid falling on an unsuspecting head as it goes through. Simple though it sounds, avoiding the dangers of scraping extremities on the corner of some metal device, as well as allowing the doors to be balanced on the head while descending with a handful of tools, all exercise the brain on a simple design. Suggestions, or even better implemented suggestions, would be most welcome.

  It is occasionally necessary to climb up the front of the cupboard and duck under the banister. that is the easy bit, but remembering not to step backwards into space on the descent is rather harder.


  As an aside here, all we need is a lightweight two-part extendable metal ladder and we will be able to replace the light fittings and clean the diffusers occasionally. We could even use it to replace the spider and even free its pulley when necessary. We might then return to Michael Hannon his generously loaned bamboo pole with extremely useful widget on the end.

  Anyone thinking that we should do without the diffusers permanently has probably never experienced the implosion of a fluorescent tube and the rain of impossibly thin slivers of glass that would cover us if we were unlucky here. We should certainly clean the diffusers now and again if we want the light generated to escape into the ringing chamber.

  A ladder would also be useful if hauled into the belfry to deal with pigeon defences and for wall cleaning. We would need to ensure that it does indeed pass through the frame and bells sensibly, and is not too heavy.


  The frame was not built with access in mind. After a while I am used to the odd little holes through which it is possible to squeeze, thus avoiding climbing over the bells.

  There is a way into the tenor pit on the ninth side (sit on the frame between the eighth and ninth, shove your legs in the triangle between the two wheels and the frame, and slide through). The other side of the tenor pit is easier: use the ladder near the fourth and slip between fourth and fifth wheels. Both of these routes are more difficult after a good lunch.

  But anyone who can find an easy way into the corner behind the eighth certainly deserves a celebratory peanut. Most of the impediments are wheels, and having removed them for our work, it was much easier to move around at the level of the bells. Struggle, though, it still is.
There are certainly no magic solutions to all this: the frame is as it is and short of enlarging the tower, or rehanging the bells in two layers there is little that can be done: most thoughts on improving the working environment are only minor compared to basic problem.

  We could, however, do with one more walkway over the bell frame to ease access to the second and third. Perhaps that would be a good use for some of the timber bell supports that we bought at vast expense.
It would be useful, too, to have more light. A wander light for under the bells and the Middle Room is absolutely necessary, and a few more bulbs or fluorescents around the walls would make the place less dim, and a trifle safer when one of the two existing bulbs does blow.

  The louvre boards are very good at stopping draughts: I doubt if their sound insulation properties are any good. They do seem to be staying in place at the moment, but they still look precarious. We should give up any idea of throwing them away (I advocated this at one time), but the fixings could be made more secure.

  Clearly the current work requires many more tools than would normally be required. I now have the excuse at home that anything that needs doing will have to await extraction of the appropriate tool from the furthest corner of the belfry. As an aside we have found a use for lots of tools that looked useful when I bought them but have been no more than decoration since: an odd spanner with an irregular hexagonal hole at the end looked the sort of thing to buy from the Ideal Home Exhibition, and never use, but it was the most spectacular success at bolts which were hard to access in any other way.

  However, all the bolts ought to have at least one Ranmoor-owned fixed spanner, we could do with a new tenon saw and something approximating to a plane would be useful.


  I am inspired by a John Cleese video on the working methods of Sammy the Guided Missile: always making small mistakes, checking whether going in the right direction, correcting for the errors, and in the end succeeding in the (destruction of) the target. 

  So here are some things that I did, or allowed us all to do wrong.
  • worrying about not enough help to do the job
  • Not enough time for insurance bureaucracy
  • Putting dirty headstocks on a clean carpet
  • ... and on the clean new church floor 
  • Headstocks round the spiral staircase
  • Smaller trailer to return the headstocks than send them
  • Not sorting out the return transport arrangements in time
  • Not remembering what LEFT SIDE meant
  • Pulley block upside down
  • Using proper ropes to lift bells 
  • Losing washers
  • Not marrying each bolt to its nut and to its hole
  • Allowing the ninth to move at all 
  • Topology of the sling and headstock


   The insurance men were a major headache. It is probably worth recording the whole story, just for once. The problem is that the fabric of the bells is insured under the normal church insurance policy, the bellringers are insured for normal ringing and for maintenance work under the Yorkshire Association policy. 

  But the bells themselves when undergoing maintenance would normally be covered by those doing the maintenance, such as the bell founders. 'Normally' in this sense is in the brain of the insurance industry which is using the model of all work being done on a professional basis, which does not admit of voluntary effort which entails any obvious risk.

  We predicted the problem early, but we bounced it around between us and the churchwardens without deciding who owned the problem. My view was that it would inevitably be awkward, but that however much time we gave the insurance men, they would use it all up and we would still be scurrying round in the last month or so.

  The church deals with an insurance broker, and they deal with the insurance company. The church used to deal with Ecclesiastical Insurance, who understand bells a bit better, but their terms for lead on the roof were unsatisfactory.

  In the end we combined our bell problem with an annual visit from an insurance assessor a fortnight before our work was due to start. He knew nothing of bells and I explained the general principle on a model bell as well as carting him up the ladder to see the real thing. He was scared of heights, and took my explanation of the risks to heart. He reported through his organisation and it was the Tuesday afternoon before our planned weekend work that the brokers said they would not play.

  Not being the customer myself, I avoided shouting directly, and it was the Friday before the work that John Barnsley, the churchwarden in charge of the contract, returned from a trip away from home to sort them out. In the end they charged us 100 for the insurance, and the last-minute negotiations included lengthy discussions between insurers, Colin Banton at the bell foundry, John Barnsley, my various answerphones, and somehow, Elaine.
I suspect the winning argument was the bellfoundry one that "people are doing this all the time", with perhaps a slice of "the opposition insurance company do this better", both of which are quite true. The proof of the pudding ... would only come with a disaster. I wonder what small print would be wriggled through to avoid liability.

  It is interesting that our Diocesan Bell Adviser had been through similar troubles, and concluded that there was no achievable solution other than avoiding accidents in the first place.


  Part of the insurance discussions described the bells being supported with timber in their normal resting position, then unbolting the headstock from the bell, then unbolting the headstock from the frame.
While we gave no firm commitment to do the work in any particular way, this is what we did for the back three bells. It certainly involved acquiring more timber than the original plan to lift bell and headstock, swing through a right angle, deposit on supports and then unbolt the headstock. That latter method may well be necessary for the smaller bells.

  The method used was wholly successful, and certainly avoided having to do a completely vertical lift of the bell with headstock attached. In preparation we removed wheels, pulley blocks and clappers before attacking the bells. It was also necessary to move slider tracks and sliders to create a ledge on which the supports could stand.


  A disadvantage is that the bottom part of eighth and ninth wheels is only removable if the whole bell is moved six inches towards the wall. So the supporting timber had to be intertwined with the wheel spokes. This was an irritation and prevented the complete removal of the wheels, and consequent reduction in enthusiasm to paint and generally renovate them.

  The bell foundry recommended that the thin metal pieces around the bell rim be replaced with some non-metallic material, to avoid expansion on rusting and consequent splitting of the wheel shielding. This has been done on the connection between the two wheel parts, using small pieces of acrylic plastic window, and this seems to work well. All the other connecting pieces need similar replacement.

  The metal arms attaching wheel to headstock are sensitive to orientation. Although they appear to be the same shape, it is not possible to swap them and still attach all the bolts. While I had chalked 'left' and 'right' on them, I had failed to record which way I was looking at the time and they caused endless fun. It is these coach bolts which are in the worst condition of any in the tower, and they could do with replacement with ordinary bolts: six per bell will not break the bank.

  Also the main bolts attaching the metal arms are different sizes on tenor and ninth, and the arms themselves' are inconsistent in attachment inside or outside the headstock. And replacing wrongly would mean the wheel misaligning with the pulley and slipped wheels plaguing our ringing.


  This was done in two stages: with the hoist attached to the beam at the foot of the steeple, there was just enough chain to lower the headstocks to the ringing room floor, and when slung from the bottom of the frame, we could reach the porch floor. We used the smaller hoist for an extension on occasions, but another sling would have done the lengthening job just as well.

  There are no convenient lifting points directly above the outside bells (one to six, eighth and ninth), but we managed with the chain supplemented with ropes to give sideways force.

  We should certainly have the carped rolled up for this job: the carpet cleaning took almost as long as the headstock removal or seemed that way.

  Grease also leaked out on the new church stone floor, and was not too easy to remove from there either.
It is worth hiding the real working bell ropes in the cupboard, and using old ropes for this job: they are as strong, usually conveniently shorter, and in any case should not be supporting very heavy weights. It matters not if they become greasy.


  Those on the ninth are particularly critical. If the whole bell is too near the trap door, the wheel scrapes on the frame near the treble: a crowbar to push the bearing bolts on that side to maximise that clearance causes the bell itself to hit the frame on at the top of its swing near the trap door. All these movements are less than 5mm.

  The ninth's problems probably started from allowing it to move when attached to the headstock before attaching to the frame: it seemed a good idea at the time because the new bearings allow the bell to sit lower on the wheel (by the odd 2mm or so), and this caused difficulty in removing the supports, which were still compressed by the weight of the bell. However there may be other similar problems on other bells.


  On a lighter note, take a long pencil and a long elastic band. Without ever passing the elastic band over the end of the pencil, thread the band through itself, and hold up the pencil horizontally by holding the band. Now spread the two supports on the pencil a hand-with apart and grab the middle of the pencil in your fist (no elastic band inside fist please}. Let go of the band, and it will fall round your wrist. Extract the band by detaching hand at wrist (joke).
So it was with our sling round the tenor, which had to be detached from its supports before we could have our sling back. This all consumed lots of time, energy and patience. We were better with the topology on the next bell, but it is too difficult to describe without a demonstration pencil and elastic band.


  The pulleys were refurbished and replaced. The tenor box was reattached, and on replacing the rope was shown to be upside down. This would prevent the sally passing through, and it takes a moment's thought to realise that the rope can be attached to the bell without needing to pass the sally through the pulley block. But the time that it needs to pass through is when the stay breaks at backstroke: at that time the last thing we need if for the rope to jam in the pulley and stop the bell dead: such severe jolts can do no good to the bells at all. So the pulley box had to be turned the right way round.


  As part of the preparations, the hammer attached to the rope at the bottom of the spiral staircase was removed. I have yet to generate enthusiasm to replace it and seek general agreement to leave it off permanently.
Its danger, as with all hammers, is that it could be moved while the tenor is swinging, with nasty results and the destruction of the tenor bell itself, and perhaps one or two other bells with debris from the original collision. This could happen by pulling the rope below while still attached at the top of the staircase and the tenor is ringing; or pulling it while the bell is up, lodging the clapper in an unsafe position ready to collide when the bell is pulled off.

  Also, pulling the rope and leaving the clapper against the bell while it rings is generally deprecated, and claimed to crack the bell.

  I understand that it is not currently used for services, so we should ensure that the PCC agrees that it can be detached permanently. If necessary in future we should teach the churchwardens how to chime bells and to determine first whether they are up.


  This all started with a belfry inspection by the bellfounders, and not being a professional myself, I would welcome an experienced eye cast over the whole works when we have completed them. I have asked the bellfoundry to quote their fee, rather in the hope of a free offer to a good customer. But we should do it even if they do charge us.


  We need continuing vigilance on the tightness of the bolts. We need to check that all the frame and wheel bolts do now have washers, a number of which disappeared into crevices during the work. The frame would still benefit from painting. The two new sliders still need to be installed and we are still below 100% on the stay bolt front. Please be kind to the second stay as it will be very hard to remove the stump if it breaks.
The Grand Plan for the rest of the bells is to do one batch in October to be ready for Christmas, and the other at the end of January to be complete by Easter. The batches are five-six-seven and one-two-three-four, with the option of having one-two to the foundry early if we want to spread the work on that batch. I have asked the bellfoundry to say on which dates they could best commit to speed a batch through its necessary operations: we will choose that slot to do five-six-seven as we will be almost unringable for that period.

  Given a free choice I would prefer to do those in October.

  While we are doing the front bells, we can, subject to bell foundry advice, remove the strange clapper restraining devices that are supposed to prevent the clapper resting on the bell, but in reality do little but fall out occasionally.


  Yes. I am a trifle sceptical that the bell foundry can find work to do in any tower that has been untouched for fifty years. So we could have passed the Millennium without any real ill effects. However the benefits are clear:
  • there is no more maintenance of bearings with grease. While this sounds minor, there were (are) four or five grease points on each bell and their maintenance was a significant task. Too much grease was almost as bad as too little.
  • the bell bolts are now real bolts which can be regularly tightened if necessary, rather than castellated nuts with split pins which can be neither loosened nor tightened in any straightforward way.
  • the tenor is easier to raise, and all the refurbished bells are easier to ring: there is a distinct contrast now between eighth and seventh.
  • I prefer the sound, which I ascribe to a round clapper rather than the flattened face. I am not an expert on sound.
  • We have more people who are happy scuttling around the bells, navigating the frame and wielding a spanner.
  • It was fun to do

Peter Scott
May 1992
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